New research from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works. The findings potentially pave the way for better cancer treatments and revolutionary new drugs that could vastly improve human health in the twilight years. ScienceDaily reports: “To drink from the fountain of youth, you have to figure out where the fountain of youth is, and understand what the fountain of youth is doing,” said Nick Graham, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “We’re doing the opposite; we’re trying to study the reasons cells age, so that we might be able to design treatments for better aging.” To achieve this, lead author Alireza Delfarah, a graduate student in the Graham lab, focused on senescence, a natural process in which cells permanently stop creating new cells. This process is one of the key causes of age-related decline, manifesting in diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis and heart disease.
The research team discovered that the aging, senescent cells stopped producing a class of chemicals called nucleotides, which are the building blocks of DNA. When they took young cells and forced them to stop producing nucleotides, they became senescent, or aged. “This means that the production of nucleotides is essential to keep cells young,” Delfarah said. “It also means that if we could prevent cells from losing nucleotide synthesis, the cells might age more slowly.” Graham said that the team’s research has applications in the emerging field of senolytics, the development of drugs that may be able to eliminate aging cells. He said that human clinical trials are still in early stages, but studies with mice have shown that by eliminating senescent cells, mice age better, with a more productive life span. The study has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.